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Playoff picture: Sunday was a good day for Falcons

Following win over Saints, Falcons move into NFC's No. 7 spot


Following last weekend's loss at home against the Panthers, it would have been hard to find much enthusiasm for a discussion about a Falcons playoff push.

The loss dropped the Falcons to 3-4, and 0-2 in the NFC South Division. They entered Week 9 in a pack of five teams with three wins, and on the outside of the playoffs looking in.

Then Sunday happened.

Thanks to a change in the NFL Playoff format this season, the addition of a seventh playoff spot for each conference meant that the Falcons were technically only half a game back of the 4-4 Panthers for the seventh spot.

The Falcons took care of business in New Orleans against the Saints, who were #6 in playoff position coming into the weekend. And every game that could have gone the Falcons way, did. The 4-4 Panthers lost to New England. The 3-4 Minnesota Vikings lost in overtime to the Ravens. Then the 3-4 49ers lost to the Cardinals, and the 3-5 Eagles lost to the Chargers.

All told, the Falcons jumped two spots to move into the #7 position, and put an extra game between the two teams that were immediately behind them (the 49ers and Eagles) coming into the weekend.

In other words, if the season ended today, the Falcons would be in the playoffs.

There's a long way to go. The Falcons will now travel to Dallas for a tough game against the Cowboys but, for a team that has missed the playoffs the past three seasons, it will be nice to be in that conversation in November. In fact, fans are clearly ready for that conversation. "Playoffs" was the top search query related to the Falcons following Sunday's game.

Here's a snapshot of where each NFC contender stands at the moment:

No. 1 Seed: Arizona Cardinals (8-1) – 1st place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 99 percent
*Odds of winning division: 79 percent

Synopsis: The Cardinals might be the story of the year in the NFC, and now they are seated atop the conference. They shook off a close loss to a hot Packers team in Week 8 by rolling past the 49ers,even without Kyler Murray, to keep their season on track. Losses by the Rams and Packers this weekend suddenly make them the NFC's clear front runner. Making the playoffs likely won't be a major challenge, but winning their division could still be interesting. The 7-2 Los Angeles Rams still have a shot, and await a rematch in Week 14.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: vs. Carolina
Week 11: at Seattle

No. 2 Seed: Green Bay Packers (7-2) – 1st place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 99 percent
*Odds of winning division: 95 percent

Synopsis: The Packers were rolling coming into Week 9. Then… well, you know. Without Aaron Rodgers, things did not go well in Kansas City. But Rodgers will likely be back in the lineup soon, and they are still almost assured a playoff spot, and the runaway favorite to win their division. They will, however, want to get back on the track the next two weeks, with a home showdown against 7-1 Rams looming in Week 12.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: vs. Seattle
Week 11: at Minnesota

No. 3 Seed: Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-2) – 1st place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 98 percent
*Odds of winning division: 88 percent

Synopsis: With a bye in Week 9, Tampa did nothing this week but fume over last week's surprise loss to the Saints. But with losses by the Packers (currently seeded ahead of them) and the Saints (their closest threat in the division), the Buccaneers may have benefited without doing a thing in Week 9. With upcoming games against Washington and the Giants, they'll likely be in a good spot for the stretch run.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at Washington
Week 11: vs. New York Giants

No. 4 Seed: Dallas Cowboys (6-2) – 1st place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 95 percent
*Odds of winning division: 91 percent

Synopsis: The shocking loss to the Broncos at home was certainly not in the plans. And with the Falcons, Chiefs, Raiders and Saints on the horizon, things could get a little interesting in the coming weeks. But with the current state of the NFC East, it would take a stunning turn of events for Dallas not to take the division.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: vs. Atlanta
Week 11: at Kansas City

No. 5 Seed: Los Angeles Rams (7-1) – 2nd place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 95 percent
*Odds of winning division: 20 percent

Synopsis: Anyone see that performance against a Derrick Henry-less Titans team coming? Pair that with the Cardinals win over the 49ers, and the race for the NFC West suddenly feels quite a bit different at the end of Sunday than it did at the start. The Rams are still a near lock to make the playoffs, but how they fare in that Week 12 tilt in Green Bay may just determine whether or not the Rams are playing for the division title when they head to the desert for a rematch with the Cardinals in Week 14.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at San Francisco
Week 11: Bye

No. 6 Seed: New Orleans Saints (5-3) – 2nd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 65 percent
*Odds of winning division: 10 percent

Synopsis: How much will the upset win over the Buccaneers last week actually hurt the Saints? The loss of Jameis Winston looked apparent against the Falcons, as New Orleans struggled to get big plays out of the passing game until late. Road trips to Tennessee and Philadelphia, followed by home games against the Bills and Cowboys will probably give us a good sense of what kind of playoff threat the Saints will be the rest of the way.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at Tennessee
Week 11: at Philadelphia

No. 7 Seed: Atlanta Falcons (4-4) – 3rd place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 25 percent
*Odds of winning division: 2 percent

Synopsis: As bad as the loss to the Panthers in Week 8 must have felt, the win in New Orleans had to feel equally good. And all the chips fell the Falcons way in Week 9, with losses from their closest playoff competitors, the Panthers, Vikings, 49ers and Eagles, on top of the Atlanta win over New Orleans. And just that quickly, the game in Dallas next week takes on a much different feel.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at Dallas
Week 11: vs. New England


Carolina Panthers (4-5) – 4th place, NFC South

*Odds of making playoffs: 7 percent
*Odds of winning division: 1 percent

Synopsis: Carolina's brief reprise into the win column last week in Atlanta was quickly undone with a 24-6 home loss to the Patriots, and they've now lost five out of six. They're still right on the cusp of being in the top 7 spots in the NFC, down only half a game at 4-5. But things don't get any easier with a trip to face the red hot Cardinals next week. If they can find a way to win that one, they have a shot to go on a bit of a run with Washington and the Dolphins before their bye week.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at Arizona
Week 11: vs. Washington

Minnesota Vikings (3-5) – 2nd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 26 percent
*Odds of winning division: 4 percent

Synopsis: They got off to a fast start in Baltimore and almost pulled off what could have been an outlook-changing win against the Ravens. Instead, they sit at 3-5, with a few tough weeks (and quarterbacks) ahead. They'll likely have to find a way to beat Justin Herbert and the Chargers in Los Angeles, or Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Minnesota to feel good about their playoff chances.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at LA Chargers
Week 11: vs. Green Bay

Seattle Seahawks (3-5) – 3rd place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 28 percent
*Odds of winning division: 0.8 percent

Synopsis: The pin is out of Russell Wilson's finger, and it's good timing if he's ready to play next week. With upcoming battles against the NFC's current top two seeds, the 3-5 Seahawks are going to need Wilson to survive the Packer and/or the Cardinals if they're going to stay in striking distance of a playoff spot. Will Russell Wilson play next week at Green Bay? Will Aaron Rodgers? Stay tuned.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: at Green Bay
Week 11: vs. Arizona

San Francisco 49ers (3-5) – 4th place, NFC West

*Odds of making playoffs: 21 percent
*Odds of winning division: 0.1 percent

Synopsis: Well, at least they don't have any more games against the Cardinals left on the schedule. Two losses against Arizona, including their 31-17 defeat this week, are part of a 1-5 record in San Francisco's last six games. But they do have two games remaining against the Rams. Including their Week 10 showdown. And remaining games against the Seahawks, Falcons and Titans, will make the 49ers road ahead a tough one.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: vs. LA Rams
Week 11: at Jacksonville

Chicago Bears (3-5) – 3rd place, NFC North

*Odds of making playoffs: 7 percent
*Odds of winning division: 1 percent

Synopsis: If Chicago gets by the Steelers in Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football, they'll find the Ravens waiting for them on the other side of their bye. And they still have games remaining against the Cardinals, Packers and at Seattle, likely with Russell Wilson back in the lineup. Yikes. The Bears are almost certainly going to have to pull off some big upsets to stay in playoff contention.

Upcoming schedule:
Week 10: Bye
Week 11: vs. Baltimore

*Odds via

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